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Notes on Building Projects
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Note. The information on this page concerning buildings comes mainly from a speedy 'first pass' through the RCMPC records at UMA and from dipping into the Monash Papers at NLA looking for information on other themes. It is presented to indicate the nature and scope of John Monash's work in building construction. Details should be used with caution. For an overview of early development of reinforced concrete in Australia, see e.g. Lewis, M. 1988.

Warracknabeal Post Office Foundations.

This was a job for the Commonwealth Public Works Dept. First calculations were carried out at the end of March 1906. The work consisted of some 36 driven piles carrying ground beams to support brick walls. The foreman was Chris Christensen, while the PWD was represented by S. Bindley in Melbourne and a Mr Cutler on site. There was some friction when the Clerk of Works tried to delay concreting operations until after all piles had been driven; for fear that vibrations would damage the fresh concrete. He complained to Bindley that Christensen had told him to go to hell. RCMPC's analysis of costs was made near the end of August.

Dudley Street Walls.

This was a job received from Charles D'Ebro and concerned a check on the stability under wind pressure of warehouse walls projecting 24 feet above ground. They had the form of counterfort retaining walls. The only large drawing is on the back of a pay sheet, the RCMPC equivalent of the proverbial 'back of an envelope'.

Reinforced concrete piles.

There had been increasing interest within RCMPC in reinforced concrete piles and much correspondence with GF&Co on the subject. On 10 April 1906, H. V. Champion, the well-known Melbourne consulting engineer, supplied JM with a reference to an article on the topic in the British journal Engineering, and two articles on "Reinforced Concrete Structures in America".

Lintels for McIllwraith and McEachern.

It was not beneath RCMPC's dignity to accept routine jobs such as the supply of 49 lintels for a building. This was an ideal task for the Pipe Factory which turned out several types of precast product.

Rubira's Cafe, Bourke St, Melbourne.

The architects for this job were Ussher & Kemp. The initial rough engineering sketch is dated 21 May 1906. On 20 July, the builder, a Mr Parker, wrote "I accept your price for roof £295 less 10 per cent". A working drawing the next day shows a slab about 130 × 27 feet clear span, supported on perimeter brick walls and rolled steel joists. The joists run in the short direction about 12 or 13 feet apart, and sit on engaged brick columns. The steel beams have a slope of one inch and the slab varies in thickness from 6.5 to 4.5 inches, providing a total slope of 3 inches for the roof surface. There was also a design for a lintel, and some work may have been done on the ground floor.

Parker announced in mid-September that he was ready for RCMPC, and warned that any water damage to the floor below would be charged to them. A week later the Clerk of Works phoned to say that water was running into the dining room below. He wanted Alex Lynch to come round. There was some hostility on the part of the builder, who told a Mr Emmett "We don't recognise you on the job. You are a d-- nuisance. We don't want you here." Lynch reported to JM that Parker had personally "broken out".

Universal Chambers, 325 Collins Street, Melbourne - alterations.

This was a small job for architect T. R. Ashworth. It involved a proposed new fourth floor and the rear portion of the roof. Tenders were called in July 1906. An RCMPC memo dated 7 February 1907 says that "Mr Gibson phoned" and "Mr Langford wants a start with Universal Chambers at once", but this is the only indication I have found that the job went to them.

Work at "Fairlie", Anderson St, South Yarra (Melbourne).

This was the residence of architect Purchas. File documents date from June 1906 to June 1907. Purchas was interested in having the whole house built in reinforced concrete by RCMPC. Our research notes are still sketchy, and it is not clear whether this happened.

1. Head-height concrete wall curving inwards to large gateposts. Panels between concrete pillars are relieved by rows of small square perforations. 2. Flat-topped porch projecting from the house between two bays. Large arched opening at front, two narrower arched openings each side. The steps do not approach the front arch, but lead at the sides to the side arch nearest the building.

1. Concrete wall at "Fairlie", 1906 or 1907. University of Melbourne Archives, Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. Collection, GPNB/1160. 2. Entrance porch. Location Number GPNB/1196.

Another image of the wall held by UMA has Location Number GPNB/1161. It shows a straight portion of the wall to one side of the entrance, with alternating blank and perforated panels.

The drawing of the entrance porch in UMA has obviously been used on site, and there is a note dated 15 Dec 1906 that Mr Purchas phoned to say "the Building Surveyor is going to try and stop the porch - I intend to stand on him". Purchas indicated he felt inclined to push the matter to an issue, not so much in his own interest as in the interest of reinforced concrete. The John Thomas Collection contains a drawing entitled "Lintels and Roof for Mr Purchas" but it shows also a staircase, landing and wall. Documents in the Quotation Files at UMA refer to reinforced concrete floors ordered by contractor Charles Firth for "Fairlie".

Oldham and Cox projects for Perth, W.A.

In mid-1906, architects Oldham & Cox of Perth, Western Australia, wired RCMPC. "Office building 4 storeys, 100' × 100' how does reinforced concrete compare ordinary brick cost and time for erection? Coming Omrah. If favourable wire." Monash immediately obtained permission from Gummow to negotiate, explaining that Oldham had visited Melbourne previously and obtained details of the new technique. After Oldham's second visit on 17 August 1906, JM reported to FMG that he had had "two long interviews with him today when he visited Bank Place with Mr Lindsay. His building is in St George's Terrace, and is 80' × 105' consisting of four-and-a-half floors with numerous partitions. It appears to be about twice the size of Bank Place, and I told Oldham that roughly the whole interior would run to £7000 in Reinforced Concrete. I told him generally the floor work ran from 1/6 to 2/6 per square yard." [Money]
There is no sign of an outcome.

On Thursday 6th September there was another enquiry: for a building for the Commercial Travellers' Club, Perth, consisting of a basement and three storeys. There was a possibility that two extra storeys would be added, so load-bearing brickwork was out of the question. Oldham enclosed a rough sketch plan and elevation, and said he needed to know the cost by the morning of Saturday 15th. Again, there is no sign of an outcome for RCMPC.

Melbourne Dental Hospital.

This was a project involving modifications to the Australian College of Dentistry in Spring Street. The architects were William M Campbell and Percy W Kernot, both ARVIA. External walls of load-bearing masonry supported the reinforced concrete work, the major portions of which included two 'front' floors, a mezzanine floor and a complex roof. There were also stairs, partitions, a strong room, a slab supporting a roof tank, and lintels. Kernot called on RCMPC with drawings at the end of May 1906, but it was early July when the first sketch plans were produced. The first quote was made on 12 July. A revised quote of £988 was made on 17 Sept following reductions in the size of the work. Serious engineering design started on 27 Sept. The calculations are unusually copious and detailed; perhaps because the structure did not have the simple repetitious nature of a warehouse or office block, and the form of the building was unusual. JM's concern about shear strength is evident. Most of the actual calculations were done by W W Harvey with the help of S J Lindsay. The bulk was completed in October, with some computations continuing into December.

The side walls of the 'roof light' are triangular with one edge almost vertical. Their apexes are joined by a beam. This supports the top of a near-vertical window panel on one side, and a steeply sloping concrete roof slab on the other. The assembly is placed diagonally with respect to the roof of the lecture theatre.

Dental Hospital, Melbourne. 1907. Schematic bird's-eye view showing how the roof light sat on the square lecture theatre. The windows face south-west. There is a parapet around the perimeter.

Engineering cross-section of the roof light.

Extract from a drawing by W W Harvey. Signed "John Monash 19/3/07" as Engineer.

The first Requisition for Materials is dated 31 January 1907, but The Age and The Argus did not report the laying of the foundation stone until 5 March. Design continued in tandem with construction until at least May. On 24 July a "Precis of the whole position" was prepared, and on 6 September 1907, a "List of Extras", indicating that work had finished. In November, RCMPC submitted an account for £1050-15-5d, less £800 received in progress payments.

Alfred Hospital: Operating Theatre & Students' Gallery.

This was a job for architect Anketell Henderson. The builder was W G O'Meara. First contact seems to have been late July 1906. There is a sketch dated 27th showing sections and plans of a floor plate and one partition. A memo reads "The first floor and the stairs leading thereto and the students gallery and the walls and floor and the projecting walls K to be built in Monier R.C." An article on the new lecture theatre appeared in The Argus of 3 Sept 1906. On 6th The Age reported that the Alfred Hospital managers had decided to have the operating theatre erected at a cost of £1671, being the lowest tender. One member disapproved, saying the price was too high, as it exceeded the estimate by £500. Simple calculations were carried out at RCMPC on 17th and a statement of materials required was sent to Alex Lynch on 24th. Wage costs were allocated to the project from 8 November to 28 February 1907. On 10 January 1907, Henderson wrote to RCMPC that "O'Meara wants the Students Gallery completed now". On 24th of that month Lindsay reported to JM that he had "concocted the top plate of the gallery".

As often happened, there was confusion as to whether the commission expected by builders from RCMPC had been included in RCMPC's sub-contract price. Henderson wrote to RCMPC: "In your original tender of 30/07/06 you quoted £177-6-0. We specified this sum NETT and stated in the Specification NETT. Contractor must add his own profit. Bringing down the price £175 for the work actually carried out to a nett basis makes it £157-10-0 plus £1 for sundry extras making £158-10-0. We will make out a certificate for this amount if you will telephone to us that the above is all clear to you."

Foy & Gibson's, Adelaide.

The South Australian Reinforced Concrete Co was set up in mid-1906. Things did not really warm up until January 1907. In March, foreman Tom McCartney arrived from Melbourne to supervise work on the Hindmarsh River railway bridge.

Architect[?] Baxter approached John Gibson in August 1906 suggesting that reinforced concrete could be used instead of brick for the external 'curtain walls' of the Foy & Gibson building in Adelaide. The plan area of the building was 90 × 47 feet. Its structural frame consisted of cast iron cylindrical tubular columns and steel joists. (This is probably the building pictured in Burden, p.141 as 169-185 Rundle St. Demolished in the 1970s.)

What is probably the first requisition for material is dated 10 January 1907. On 7 April, McCartney reported that foreman Black had arrived to start on the job. The last relevant memorandum is dated 23 May. The perceived slowness of reinforced concrete construction caused problems with the builder.

Australian Pill & Chemical Manufacturing Co.
(Unsuccessful proposal.)

This was a project organised by W E L Wears, acting as RCMPC's commission agent, with architects H W & F B Tompkins. Wears forwarded the architects' pencil sketches on Saturday 22 Sept 1906, saying they required a quote by Tuesday. Very brief computations were prepared on the Sunday for a 3-storey building about 149' × 33' in plan, with r.c. walls and floors, and a truss roof, and a quote for £2250 submitted. Wears wrote to discuss this figure on 12 December, but there is no sign of an outcome.

Buckley & Nunn: fireproof flat roof and lift house.

The main part of this job was a flat roof for the premises in Bourke Street, Melbourne. A pencil drawing shows the roof resting on masonry external walls, the clear dimensions being approximately 82' × 59'. Reinforced concrete girders span in the short direction, each with a single column providing support part-way to break the span. These columns appear to be steel.

First computations were carried out in October 1906, with JM joining in with Lindsay, and paying particular attention to shear. The first requisition for materials was at the end of February 1907. The estimate at this time was reduced to £567 calculated on the following basis:

Margin £218
Sale price gross 630
Less 10 per cent   63

RCMPC commenced work on 14 March 1907. Final quantities were calculated on 10 July. The next day, Monash told Gibson the job was finished, and handed over to him the task of obtaining payment.

Mission to Seamen Institute: portions.

This was another project obtained for RCMPC through W E L Wears. The architects were Butler & Bradshaw and the builders Baxter & Boyne. It was not a happy job: there was a strike during construction, and discord with the builder and the Architects.

Our research notes mention foundations for the mission and a flat roof, but it is not clear whether this was for the main building or the caretaker's quarters. Computations for the strip footings to carry brick walls were prepared in October 1906, as were quotes for "outbuildings". Tenders for erection of a two-storey brick building were called in The Age on 20th. On 30th, RCMPC quoted for extra foundations and walls to the billiard room and for a flat roof without asphalt. A requisition for reinforcement is dated 14 November. On 22nd RCMPC informed Walter Butler, through Wears, that in view of a strike, they would not be able to complete the brickwork. A few days later they reiterated that "owing to recent labour troubles in the building trade" they had been obliged to cease work at the Mission "to maintain solidarity with employers". On 9 January 1907, Monash told his cousin: "Owing to the strike, practically all our work is stopped and the drawing office is idle, including draughtsmen".

Presumably the strike was resolved by 14 January 1907, when Baxter quoted Monash £31-10-0 to lay brickwork on top of reinforced concrete. JM replied with the following scheme:

Prepared to allow [Baxter]£40
Original gross sum quoted [by RCMPC]£274
less brickwork 40
Less 10 per cent discount23-8-0
Net balance to you£210-12-0

JM wrote that he wanted this agreed while the situation was fresh in people's minds.

On 11 February, Butler wrote to Baxter and Boyne accusing them of "blocking the work" he desired placed in the hands of RCMPC and "endeavouring to avoid a portion of the work you agreed with me should have been done for £40, and again refusing to pay for the work when completed. I am satisfied that all this unnecessary trouble you are causing is injuring yourself more than any one. Another time I shall know what to do and let a separate contract as I should have done in this case but for the desire to meet the wishes of the builder and my endeavour is rewarded by your giving me double the worry."

March 1907 started with a message from Wears about RCMPC having set out the columns wrongly. JM responded that the architects had themselves altered the column spacing. In May they complained that RCMPC had not provided enough drainage slope on the roof surface. RCMPC agreed to add a layer of Neuchatel Asphalt to the roof at a cost of about £27. On 11 Sept a new contract was signed allowing £76 for the foundations, as before, and £83 for the roof. RCMPC also agreed to guarantee the roof for 6 months" and "should any defect appear within 5 years we will remedy same to your entire satisfaction or coat same with mineral asphalt". Detailed computations for the roof are dated 16 October. It must have been finished by 15 November, when Lynch reported that the builders wanted to be given the job of plastering the underside. RCMPC considered this unnecessary and noted that the soffits at Bank Place etc had received only a "setting coat" of cement.

In October 1908 the architects were still withholding final payment because of leaks in the roof. Gibson made an inspection and reported that one was due to a blocked outlet and one to a small crack in the asphalt or to soakage through the parapet wall. He promised to fix the crack and asked if RCMPC could now have its balance? The Architects responded with an angry letter - the roof was defective - RCMPC installed asphalt - and the roof was still cracking - when would it end? Gibson thought that the Architect's stated intention to "take other steps to protect our clients" was a threat to take down the roof. He told Monash: "I think there is nothing for it but a personal interview in which our views of the matter can be put forcibly." This seems to be the start of animosity between Butler and Monash which lasted for many years.

Brougham Chambers: Strong Rooms.

This is included to represent the many reinforced concrete strong rooms built by RCMPC. No job was too small. Like the pipes and the stairways, in quantity they provided steady income - and presumably served as a means of establishing professional relationships with architects. This architect was G B Leith and the building was in Chancery Lane. RCMPC provided quotes for strong rooms extending through one, two or three floors. First enquiries were made late in October 1906. A revised quote for £58 was accepted on 13 November and Lynch reported work complete on 29th.

Osboldstone Factory proposal.

This proposal brought RCMPC into contact with architect H R Crawford, who had a CE degree in civil engineering and appears to have been working for a builder named Fick. Although the bid was unsuccessful it is remarkable for the way the quote varied, and as an example of the amount of work that goes into unsuccessful tendering.

The original scheme in October 1906 involved a basement 56' × 45', a ground floor, 1st floor, and 2nd floor. The quote for this was £4410. Reductions in floor area and finishes resulted in a new quote of £3065. Further changes brought this down to £2550. Late in November, RCMPC were informed that Osboldstone was keen to settle matters as he thought others were "after" the land he had in mind. Crawford took an interest in the structural design, asking JM about the "investigation" (analysis) of a girder based on "Johnson's reasoning" - an authority he had a great deal of respect for. The quote came down at this time to £2250, then crept up £30 to allow for increased spans. JM told Crawford the £2280 was "bedrock", and that he was thinking of using deep steel girders to support the floors if rigidity was important. He felt that Fick's estimate for the whole building was too low.

On 26 November, Crawford wrote (on Victorian Railways letterhead) thanking JM for his explanation of reinforced concrete beam calculations. "There is evidently a 'kink' in Johnson's theory. As you state, computation for 'a' without reference to 'h' is not, to say the least, reasonable." Regarding the building, he wrote that after consultation with Mr. Fick re the cost of window fittings, etc. he would write to Osboldstone to argue for a "creditable building".

On 24 January 1907 RCMPC prepared yet another estimate, this time for the floors only, quoting £1065 less 10 per cent. JM admitted he was now confused about what the £2280 quote was supposed to cover and wanted things cleared up. Next day there is a revised estimate for yet another scheme costing £1066 for footings, columns (able to take 2 extra floors), 4 floor decks, main entrance stairs and supporting ribs. Another on 19 February totalled £2390, made up of £880 for brickwork and £1510 for the rest. That day, Mr Fisk returned the books that JM had lent him and on 20th JM submitted a quote of £2390 - "So far as it is possible to make up a final and binding price on a pencil sketch". On 6 March a sixth estimate was prepared for r.c. floors only, in a brick building, with a note "Quote £720 less 10 per cent to contractor". There appears to have been no outcome.

Fire-proof Plan Room for Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works.

This is the first job in our research notes for architects Oakden & Ballantyne. A rough quote was made in December 1906, and calculations followed in January 1907. A drawing initialled by Lindsay shows a one-way spanning slab supported on perimeter brick walls and two rows of columns, with typical girder, slab, column, and footing details. Wears sent the blueprint to O&B on 22nd. A note on the RCMPC copy of the covering letter reads: "Mr Wears notifies at 9 pm that Mr. Oakden ... generally is much interested in the drawing". The first requisition was issued on 7 June. The job was completed for £332-10-0 less 10 per cent to builder A. Parker.

Union Bank Rochester: foundations, strong room, tank.

This was another job obtained through Wears with architects Butler & Bradshaw. On 6 December 1906 Wears explained "We find we can get strong enough ground beams in 3' depth up to surface, so do not need to bring concrete up to plinth level. Thus you can substitute 2' of brickwork for 2' of concrete and save money". The quote for the strong room was £130 with 6-inch walls or £160 with 9-inch walls. Wears assured Butler that 6 inches of reinforced concrete would be more burglar-proof than 18 inches of brick, and that it would not crack or settle like brickwork. On 1 February, Wears produced another estimate based on revised drawings. On 3rd JM decided to bid for the job, though he thought Wears' second estimate was on the "meagre side". The figures were now £128 and £150 for the strong room. The final estimate for the foundations was £272. The drawing of the footings was prepared by H G Jenkinson, who had joined the firm at the end of March, shortly after competing his Honours exams at the University of Melbourne. Monash signed as Engineer.

Signature: John Monash M. Inst. C. E. 23/4/07.

JM was now able to quote his full membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers (equivalent to present Fellow), having been admitted the previous January.

Alex Lynch arrived in Rochester to get work started on 1 May 1907. The resident foreman was T W Wood. The rainwater tank was treated as an 'extra'. Enquiries made by B&B in 1925 suggest it was a small on-ground tank 3 × 7 feet in plan and 4 feet deep. An account for £293 rendered on 5 June 1907 is probably for foundations plus tank. In July 1907, there was a minor dispute with builder A G Plowman over a claim he made for work done for RCMPC.

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